NFL Nation: 2012 Draft Analysis AFC

AFC South draft analysis

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
8:12
PM ET
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


Despite talk of grabbing the best player available, it’s funny how often needs and picks seem to line up.

Of 31 picks, I count four that don’t technically qualify as addressing needs: Jaguars fifth-round linebacker Brandon Marshall, Titans fifth-round tight end Taylor Thompson, Jaguars sixth-round cornerback Mike Harris and Colts seventh-round quarterback Chandler Harnish.

We saw the Texans replenish at outside linebacker, on the offensive line and at kicker and add to their options at receiver. The Colts loaded up on help for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck -- seven of their other nine picks bring offensive players to Indianapolis . Jacksonville addressed its big needs right out of the chute, then made a couple of odd selections. Tennessee didn’t take two players at the same position.

BEST MOVE

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Al Bello/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon is the premier playmaker the Jaguars' offense sorely needed.
The Jaguars came into the offseason in dire need of upgraded weaponry for Blaine Gabbert. They started last season with wide receiver Jason Hill as a starter, and he was cut before the season ended. Mike Thomas was miscast as a top-of-the-group guy when he should be a No. 3. Cecil Shorts showed he needs a lot of time to develop.

Mike Mularkey hired a solid receiver coach, Jerry Sullivan. He’s a tremendous upgrade from Johnny Cox, who was quickly fired after Jack Del Rio was dismissed during the 2011 season. Free agency brought Laurent Robinson, who should help, and Lee Evans, who’d be gravy if he can revive his career.

The Jaguars successfully sold pundits on the idea they’d be trading down, then only gave up a fourth-rounder to move up from No. 7 to No. 5 to draft Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. He’s a dynamic receiver who can catch balls outside his frame and cause matchup problems.

Outside of Luck, no team in the division got a player who can cure an ill better than Blackmon can fix what ails the Jacksonville offense. Now it’s on Gabbert to show he can effectively get the ball to the new star receiver.

RISKIEST MOVE

The Titans didn’t touch a defensive end until Scott Solomon in the seventh round, and they didn’t add an offensive lineman at all. And pass rush and run blocking were two areas that qualified as weaknesses at the end of last season.

Tennessee hosted Scott Wells, Chris Myers, Jeff Saturday and Dan Koppen and saw all four sign elsewhere. On Saturday, coach Mike Munchak made those meetings sound like information-gathering get-togethers rather than courtships, a stance that’s pretty insulting to veterans who wouldn’t waste time making visits without the possibility of a contract.

The defense of incumbent starters on the interior -- Eugene Amano and Leroy Harris -- has entered a new round now. Munchak said the team felt no “dire need there” and that “we have guys we can win with.” Still, watch for a key undrafted addition or free agent or two.

The Titans added one big piece this offseason to its insufficient pass rush in the form of free-agent end Kamerion Wimbley, who was a cap casualty in Oakland. He may provide a big boost but also probably shouldn’t be on the field for every play. Tennessee’s only attempt to bolster itself on the edges came with the 211th pick, end Scott Solomon from Rice.

The Titans face a pretty good slate of quarterbacks this season. Those passers may have a lot of time to throw.

MOST SURPRISING PICK

We hit it hard Saturday night, but the Jaguars' selection of Bryan Anger in the third round was a baffler. Yes, the team will benefit from a big leg and stands to gain field position.

But Jacksonville overrated special teams’ impact by deciding to draft Anger so early rather than addressing other needs where it could have selected a player with a chance to play.

The Jaguars have a recent history of messing up at the position, and teams that struggle with stability at a spot are prone to overreach in an effort to correct it.

I believe that’s a good piece of what happened here. They could have gotten him or a punter who still would have been a big upgrade later.

The Jaguars found Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox and Will Rackley in the third round in Gene Smith’s previous three drafts. They are all starters who affect games more than a punter can.

They can rationalize this pick. And we can stridently disagree.

FILE IT AWAY

Six receivers came into the division -- Blackmon, Kendall Wright in Tennessee, T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill in Indianapolis and DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin in Houston. That’s two first-rounders, two third-rounders, a fourth-rounder and a sixth-rounder.

The countermeasures?

Just two incoming cornerbacks -- Titans fourth-rounder Coty Sensabaugh and Jaguars sixth-rounder Harris.

Secondary depth could be severely tested by good quarterbacks and receivers, especially when the division faces the NFC North and the high-powered passing offenses of Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago.

The Colts have no proven corners beyond Jerraud Powers. The Texans lost Jason Allen, who played a reasonable amount. The Titans need to unearth a new nickelback now that Cortland Finnegan is gone. Only the Jaguars have fortified the spot, adding two-time Super Bowl winner Aaron Ross, presumably getting Cox and Rashean Mathis back healthy and drafting Harris.

The AFC South is a big running back division, but it’s become more equipped to sling it and may not have the people needed to cover offenses with a lot of downfield weapons.

“It tells you that this is a wide-open league, the offensive focus is on scoring points probably more than ever,” Titans general manager Ruston Webster said. “It’s becoming more of a quarterback-wide receiver league probably every day.”

AFC North draft analysis

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
7:12
PM ET
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The AFC North continued its momentum from last season, when it was the only division to send three teams to the playoffs. Each team made significant upgrades by sticking to a plan. Of course, some executed better than others.

The Cleveland Browns used their first three picks on an offense that ranked 30th in scoring last season. The Cincinnati Bengals took three defensive players in the first three rounds. The Baltimore Ravens addressed their two biggest needs by using three of their first four picks on outside linebacker and offensive line. And the Steelers grabbed two starters on the offensive line with their first two picks.

Let's break down the draft decisions made within the division over the past three days:

BEST MOVE

Few teams manipulate the draft like the Baltimore Ravens. You have to applaud how the Ravens got a first-round talent in Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw when they were the only team in division not to draft in the first round. It wasn't just the best move in the AFC North. It was among the biggest steals of the draft.

Baltimore traded the 29th overall pick to the Minnesota Vikings for an additional pick in the fourth round (which was used on Delaware's Gino Gradkowski, their center of the future) and still got its targeted player -- Upshaw -- despite dropping back six spots.

Upshaw was once considered a top-10 pick, but he slid down draft boards after struggling at the Senior Bowl and sitting out NFL combine drills because of tendinitis in his knee. His high motor and bulldog mentality make him a perfect fit in Baltimore's traditionally tough defense.

"When you talk about Courtney, there still is a game we call football and Courtney is a football player," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I'm sure if you would have asked us back in October, November if Courtney would make it to the third pick in the second round, everybody would have said, 'Probably not.' "

Upshaw's impact will be felt in two areas. He should take over the thankless job of setting the edge against the run that has long been handled by Jarret Johnson, who signed with San Diego in free agency. In passing situations, Upshaw will team with Terrell Suggs to give the Ravens their best edge rushers since they had Suggs and Peter Boulware.

RISKIEST MOVE

The Browns removed all the risk early in the first round, when they traded three picks to guarantee they would get running back Trent Richardson. Then, Cleveland turned around and took a major gamble later in the first round, selecting Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick.

This isn't the riskiest move that the Browns could have made at quarterback in this draft. Cleveland did pass on Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill in the top five. But taking a 28-year-old rookie quarterback ignited a lot of second-guessing. Cleveland had the chance to take Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff or Stanford guard David DeCastro at No. 22, or could have traded back into the second round to get Weeden. He has the physical tools and maturity to become a starter in the NFL. But taking him that high in the draft was a reach.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBrandon Weeden would already be the second-oldest starter in the AFC North.
The one certainty is that Weeden upgrades the Browns' quarterback position. He has a much stronger arm than Colt McCoy and is far more accurate. But there's more pressure when you take a quarterback in the first round, and the clock is already ticking considering Weeden would already be the second-oldest starter in the division.

Cleveland played it safe for the rest of the draft, taking three players who were four-year starters (offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, linebacker James-Michael Johnson and guard Ryan Miller).

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

It was no surprise that the Steelers had the best draft in the AFC North. There was one move, however, that inspired a double take -- drafting Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams in the second round.

The Steelers don't usually take players with character issues and have little patience with behavioral problems on the team (see: Santonio Holmes). General manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged that Adams was off Pittsburgh's board after he failed a drug test at the NFL combine and the reportedly lied to the team. The Steelers only considered him again after Adams met some stipulations, which included counseling.

Although Adams has the look of a prototypical left tackle, his issues caused him to slip to the 56th overall pick. He is the biggest question mark in a strong draft for the Steelers. Pittsburgh landed the best guard in the draft (David DeCastro), a future starting nose tackle (Alameda Ta'Amu) and an electric playmaking running back (Chris Rainey). Perhaps that's the reason why the Steelers thought they could take such a chance on Adams.

FILE IT AWAY

The only position of need the Cincinnati Bengals ignored in free agency was wide receiver. And the Bengals passed on taking a wide receiver early despite three picks in the first two rounds.

Cincinnati let two of its top three receivers leave in free agency (Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell). Now that the draft is over, it still has not answered the question of who will be its No. 2 wide receiver. It's uncertain whether the two wide receivers drafted by the Bengals -- Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu in the third round and California's Marvin Jones in the fifth round -- will contribute immediately. Sanu is more known for being the player that got a prank call about getting picked by the Bengals in the first round before getting drafted by Cincinnati a day later.

The Bengals had been linked to Baylor's Kendall Wright and Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill, but they chose cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and guard Kevin Zeitler in the first round instead. Cincinnati has one of the best young wide receivers in the NFL in A.J. Green and a productive tight end in Jermaine Gresham. At this point, even Andy Dalton has to wonder who the third option in the passing game will be.

AFC East draft analysis

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
7:11
PM ET
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


The AFC East struggled mightily last year. Only the New England Patriots finished with a winning record. The New York Jets (8-8), Miami Dolphins (6-10) and Buffalo Bills (6-10) are all playing catch up this season.

The draft is the best way for the Jets, Dolphins and Bills to close the gap with the reigning AFC champs. It's also an opportunity for New England to get better, particularly on defense, in order to make another Super Bowl run.

Here are the highlights of the AFC East draft:

BEST MOVE

The best move was actually a series of moves by the Patriots. It was clear New England needed defensive help. The Patriots' defense was ranked 31st overall, and it was an issue on the final drive of the Super Bowl.

New England drafted six straight defensive players. Defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower, both first-rounder, have a chance to make an immediate impact. New England moved up twice in the first round to pick Jones and Hightower.

"I felt like we got good value for them," coach Bill Belichick said. "[We] took Dont'a and Chandler, probably could have been in either order. But we felt like we would have a better chance to end up with both players if it went that way, not that we were sure we would get the second one, but we thought we might have a shot at it. Looking forward to working with both guys."

New England also took pass-rushing defensive end Jake Bequette in the third round. He could be a sleeper. The Patriots made one curious pick on defense in the second round that we will get to later.

The Patriots did a good job overall, but an individual move I really like is Miami's pick of former Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. I had the chance to watch Stanford several times, and I was really impressed. He moves well, has a good frame and is intelligent.

"He's used to playing with a very demanding quarterback with Andrew (Luck), and they trusted him to protect Andrew for three years," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said of Martin. "We're very happy with the pick."

Martin has to move from left tackle to right tackle, because Pro Bowler Jake Long is on Miami's roster. But that's an easier transition to make than going from right to left tackle.

The Buffalo Bills also made some solid picks, particularly first-round corner Stephon Gilmore and second-round offensive tackle Cordy Glenn. Buffalo had a safe draft that should help the team immediately next season.

RISKIEST MOVE

The New York Jets entered the offseason with a lot of questions. Can they fix their locker room issues? Can they handle the Tim Tebow phenomenon?

Instead of going safe, the Jets continued to roll the dice by taking risky prospects with their top two picks: defensive end Quinton Coples and receiver Stephen Hill. Both are boom-or-bust prospects the Jets plan to rely on next season.

New York needs help rushing the passer and hope Coples can provide it. He has all the physical tools, but there are big questions about his motivation. The Jets also need a big-play receiver, and Hill could be that player. He has all the measurables but wasn’t productive at Georgia Tech, which ran a triple-option offense. Hill caught just 28 passes last season but averaged an astounding 29.3 yards per reception.

"I feel great. Especially now, I'm in more of an offense where I can catch the ball a little bit more," Hill said. "And you know, catching the ball from [quarterback] Mark Sanchez is great. I'm going to make sure I get with him as soon as possible and we both try to get this roll on."

Both players have the potential to start as soon as next season.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

[+] EnlargeTavon Wilson
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMINew England surprised some by selecting Illinois defensive back Tavon Wilson in the second round.
Belichick has some explaining to do. The Patriots took a player in the second round who wasn’t invited to the NFL combine or any pre-draft all-star games.

Patriots second-round pick Tavon Wilson caught everyone completely by surprise. The defensive back wasn’t on anyone’s radar, especially in the second round. But New England liked him enough to take Wilson No. 48 overall.

"He played plenty. You can see him plenty at Illinois," Belichick said. "You can see him against whoever you want to see him against: All the Big Ten schools, Arizona State, teams that throw the ball. He’s playing corner, he’s playing safety, he’s playing the inside positions, the nickel position, the dime position."

Belichick is known to go off the radar in the draft at times. He continues to defend the Wilson pick.

"Similar situation with [Sebastian] Vollmer a couple of years ago. We drafted guys -- I think one year, didn't we draft like three of four guys that were non-combine guys?" Belichick said. "Some guys play in all-star games, some guys don't. I don't know who picks all those all-star teams. In all honesty, I don't know who picks the combine for that matter."

New England needs immediate help in the secondary. Wilson has experience in college at cornerback and safety and will get a chance to show what he can do in New England.

FILE IT AWAY

This is the perfect category for Miami first-round selection and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. You can probably file this pick away until 2013.

Tannehill will begin the season third on Miami's depth chart behind incumbent starter Matt Moore and free-agent signing David Garrard. The odds that the rookie will jump two veteran quarterbacks before Week 1 are long. But Tannehill isn't resigning himself to holding a clipboard.

"I'm a football player and I'm a competitor," Tannehill said Saturday. "I want to be on the field and I want to compete. But I also realize that I'm coming in and there's veteran quarterbacks on this team that I can learn from."

The race for the No. 2 quarterback in the AFC East behind Tom Brady is wide open. Tannehill has the potential to fill that void in two or three years. But the Dolphins have to do the right things to nurture the young quarterback, despite very high expectations.

Tannehill is the first quarterback taken in the first round by Miami since Hall of Famer Dan Marino in 1983.

"I didn't take him as the eighth pick in the draft to be a backup quarterback," Ireland said. "I picked him to be a starting quarterback in this league at some point, to have an impact on this football team, to help us win football games and championships. That's the expectation that I have going down the line."

AFC West draft analysis

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
6:02
PM ET
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


The biggest offseason move in the AFC West in years was the Broncos’ signing of superstar quarterback Peyton Manning in March.

It instantly changed the landscape of the AFC West and it likely will continue to do so for the next three years or so. During the draft, Manning’s impact was felt in the division when several of the premium picks by the Broncos’ rivals were defensive players.

The first player taken in the division was athletic defensive tackle Dontari Poe. The Memphis product was taken No. 11 by the Chiefs. San Diego used its first three picks on defensive players, all of whom have a chance to make an instant impact.

Let’s look at the highlights of the AFC West draft:

BEST MOVE

The first two days of the San Diego Chargers’ draft.

No one in the division scored like the Chargers did. Following up a strong free-agency class, Chargers GM A.J. Smith deserves a lot of credit for this draft. The Chargers badly needed impact players on defense and they got them.

San Diego made one of the top value picks of the draft when it watched South Carolina pass-rusher Melvin Ingram fall to them. He was supposed to be a top-10 pick. San Diego considered moving up to take Alabama safety Mark Barron but he went at No. 7. Instead, the Chargers stayed at home and watched an equally talented player fall to them. Ingram fills the Chargers’ biggest need and he should be an instant contributor.

The Chargers scored again by getting great value in the second and third rounds. San Diego watched Connecticut defensive lineman Kendall Reyes fall to them at No. 49. With LSU safety Brandon Taylor still on the board (San Diego considered him at No. 49), the Chargers moved up and took him at No 73. There is no way the Chargers could have scripted the first three rounds any better.

The 2012 Chargers got better in this draft.

RISKIEST MOVE

Arguably, there wasn't a riskier move in this draft than the Kansas City Chiefs’ choice of Poe at No. 11.

The nose tackle from Memphis was one of the most talked about players in the draft. After his stunning performance at the NFL combine, Poe was considered a potential top-five player. However, after teams dissected his game film, they discovered Poe didn’t consistently make plays against marginal competition.

By the time the draft rolled around, it seemed as though Poe could fall into the 20s. But the Chiefs took him because of his ability and the fact he fills their greatest need. Poe was the best talent at No. 11 and the fact he filled a major need makes this a logical pick.

But if Poe doesn't develop, the Chiefs will get heat for not following the general consensus. The team has failed to hit a home run with recent picks on the defensive line, so the Chiefs have to make this work. Kansas City thinks Poe will excel under coach Romeo Crennel because he will concentrate on one position as opposed to having to play several spots as he did in college. If the Chiefs are right, this will be a big score. If not, they’ll be forever reminded of it.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

[+] EnlargeBrock Osweiler
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireThe Broncos decided to waste no time in finding Peyton Manning's heir apparent, selecting Brock Osweiler in the second round.
I don’t think it was shocking that the Denver Broncos picked a quarterback or that the quarterback ended up being Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler.

But I think it was a surprise Denver took him at No. 57. That’s a high spot for a player who probably won’t start until 2015, at the earliest.

The Broncos have other needs and they have Manning. Yet, Osweiler was a target. It shows how much Denver executive VP John Elway values the position and how much he liked Osweiler. He could have waited a couple of years to peg Manning’s successor, but he did it before Manning has even thrown a pass in Denver.

FILE IT AWAY

This draft will be remembered as a success for all four teams in the division. I was impressed with how each team approached the draft and the patience each team showed.

I think the Chargers got as many impact players for the immediate future as any team in the league. I like Denver’s creativity. It traded out of the first round and still got some quality players such as defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson and running back Ronnie Hillman.

The Chiefs quietly had a strong draft and middle-rounders such as receiver Devon Wylie, defensive back De'quan Menzie and running back Cyrus Gray will add depth to this team.

New Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie didn’t have many picks to work with -- his first was No. 95. But it is easy to tell there is draft-room stability with the post-Al Davis Raiders.

McKenzie played his board well and didn’t make any puzzling picks based on measurables as the late Davis was known to do. Oakland’s draft will not make many headlines, but McKenzie may have tabbed future starters in tackle Tony Bergstrom, linebacker Miles Burris and receiver Juron Criner.

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